Sunday, March 19, 2017

Only God can cause you to confess


Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, "This is the finger of God."  But Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said.   Exodus 8:19

THE central event of the Old Testament is the Exodus, that event by which the LORD liberated His people  from 450 years of brutal dictatorship, from hopeless slavery under the watchful eye of ever more demanding Egyptian overlords, and by which He set them free to serve him in righteousness and purity forever.

Generation after generation they suffered unbearable sorrow.  They built houses they did not live in and planted vineyards they did not drink, but as bad as Pharaoh was, he was only a type of one more cruel; of Beelzebul who is Satan's Chief Lieutenant.

Like his master he is incapable of mercy and unable to find rest or attain to any sense of well-being.  His only comfort, if we can call it that, is when men's hearts harden like Pharaoh's, when people enslave and abuse one another, when they rob them of their labor and deny the of their dignity; above all, when men's tongues are tied so that they will not pray, praise, or give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of all mercies, and God of all comfort.  Therefore it should not in any way surprise us when we hear in today's gospel that Beelzebul robs a man of his power of speech.  There can hardly be a more brutal crime than to cut out a man's tongue.  To be sure people use their tongues to transgress, to curse God and man, to lie and deceive; and as many people know firsthand, sadly so, that the tongue can be more devastating than the fist, that it can batter a child or disassemble a spouse without leaving so much as a single mark.

Repent!  Turn away from your sins, O hard-hearted, venomous-tongued Pharaohs, you husbands and wives, you parents and children, and God will change His mind and not take revenge on you or hand you over to Satan; but He who is faithful and just will forgive you your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness!  He will soften your heart and sanctify your tongue so that you might become a speaker of good things like Isaiah who anxiously cried out:  Here am I, Lord, send me, send me, for the gift of speech, however much it is misused, is the greatest gift of all.  It is speech that makes us like God who begat us, speech that separates us from and elevates us above the animals that God gave to be our servants and our food.

Speech is divine.  By it  man fulfills his highest vocation which is to worship God, the very thing we are most blessedly engaged in at this time.  For as often as we sing Glory be to Thee O Lord, or Praise be to Thee O Christ, or Bless we the Lord, or Thanks be to God, it is a holy act of holy worship!  It is performative speech, which means that what is being said is what factually occurs.

Here in God's House, men whose lips that are bathed by baptism, and whose tongues are untied by the Finger of God, open their mouths to receive the body and blood of Christ, so that they may be one flesh with the Lord of Glory and never hunger or thirst again.

Even the Egyptian magicians could not keep silent.  "It is the Finger of God," they said, and in this way they became ancestors of all future enemies of the Gospel who could not help but to confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father:  men like Ananias, the High Priest who declared, "It is better that one man should die for the nation, than that the whole nation perish;"  Men like Pilate who declared, "This man has done nothing wrong," and like the man we might think of as the obstetrician of the church, the Roman soldier whose spear tore open the side of the New Adam, thereby giving birth to the New Eve, the church, the mother of all the living by water and by blood, and who later fell down at the foot of the cross to confess, "Truly this man was the Son of God."

In today's gospel we learn that Jesus is the Finger of God, yet when we speak this way we don't mean that He is a mere tool of the Father, but instead that He is the eternal Son of the Father whose meat and drink it is to do the Father's will, who became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, who lowered Himself in order to drink the cup of suffering so that we might take the cup of blessing; that cup of which the Lord declares, "This cup IS the New Testament in my blood," the cup that "runneth over" with consolation, courage, strength, rest, relief, pardon for sins, and every good thing we could ever desire.

For the moment though, remember that we are still involved in a hot war!  The forces of evil are fully aware that the Finger of God is at work in the world, undoing their evil deeds and opening the lips of men to show forth God's praise.  They know that as often as the church baptizes a baby, calls her people to repentance, gives holy absolution, gives voice to the Holy Scripture, or engages in holy worship, that they, like Pharaoh of old, are loosing their slaves.  This causes no joy in their demented world, but only demonic rage and makes them as wily as cornered animals.  That's who and what we are dealing with.

While the world at large is concerned with nothing more than a new pair of blue jeans and cold beer on a Friday  night, we are engaged in spiritual warfare, and must remain sober and vigilant, but we need not fear or lose a wink of sleep at night because Jesus who is the Finger of God fights for us, even as He did for Israel against the Egyptians; and as that evil army fled in fear, so do the demons.   Glory be to Jesus, the Finger of God.  Amen.

~  Rev. Dean Kavouras

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